Local Curves Owner Krupa Got Into Business At 69

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Conventional wisdom says the purpose of a business is to earn a profit for the owner. Call Elly Krupa's wisdom unconventional.

She's not losing money as the owner of the Curves franchise in Chippewa Falls; it's really rather holding its own. She's nowhere near making back her substantial initial investment, but considering she bought the franchise at age 69, she knew that would never happen anyway.

But ask her if she feels she's made a difference in the lives of the members of the women-only exercise and weight loss club, and her answer is immediate.

"Oh, yes, yes, yes!" she says.

And that was the whole idea.

As she wraps up another Women's Health Week (celebrated through May 19), Krupa, now age 74, can look back on five years of helping women lead healthier lives.

And, yes, her husband, Vern, thought she was crazy when she first talked about buying the franchise. They both know a thing or two about business. He was one of the original founders of EDI, which is still going strong in Chippewa Falls. Elly worked with dentist Dr. David Crane for a few years, and was a personal secretary for an executive at Chippewa Shoe.

Then she and Vern started buying old houses, converted them into apartments, and won a couple of city beautification awards in the process. They raised two children and now have five granddaughters and six great-grandchildren.

All that could make life in retirement pretty sweet until one of those granddaughters urged Elly to come to the Curves in the Kmart plaza with her.

"And I said 'why do I want to pay to exercise when I could exercise at home for free?'" Elly said. "But she talked me into it. She wanted someone to go with her. She didn't want to go alone." Elly quickly found that she loved it.

The idea behind Curves is to give women a non-threatening opportunity to exercise. That's why it's women-only, and caters especially to women who are not necessarily fitness buffs looking to train for marathons.

Elly got into a group of women who all went together at the same time, and had a great time.

"I felt I was meant to be there and do it. It was kind of a calling," she said.

However, the place was for sale by an absentee owner and, Elly reflects, could have been cared for better.

"I felt I could do better for the members," she said.

But the cost was substantial. She paid over six-figures for the franchise in November of 2007, knowing profits would never make that money back.

Not only that, she and Vern invested in a new location between Kmart and the Chippewa Valley Bible Church, buying a lot and constructing a new building all to do better for the Curves members.

Membership at Curves has held steady, around 235 currently, with the women drawn to the Curves philosophy. No one feels self-conscious because she's overweight or out of shape, because there are so many members facing the same struggles and taking steps to do do something about it.

Still, the membership is pretty diverse. Krupa said one members is 95 years old and comes to keep up her strength. A 9-year-old girl comes with her mother.

"We have some very heavy ladies. We also have some very thin ladies who like the strength training," Krupa said.

Increasingly, Curves is becoming a place that is concerned with women's overall health, not just a place to exercise. New is the Curves Complete Weight Management program that combines diet with exercise for those focusing on losing weight. It was developed through the famed Cleveland Clinic.

Krupa makes sure the business stays involved in women's health issues, and in the community at large. She's partnered with St. Joseph's Hospital, which offers workshops and seminars on women's health issues. She sets up a table promoting the business and women's health at community events. An annual food driver benefits the Salvation Army Food Pantry.

Mayor Greg Hoffman in conjunction with Gov. Scott Walker declared this past Thursday, May 17, as National Curves Day, as part of the celebration of Women's Health Week. Curves members held a walk through Irvine Park to mark the occasion. A week-long open house provided health information to women, and free limited time memberships were available.

It was for these kinds of efforts that Krupa risked some investment capital and got involved. She doesn't regret it.

"I just love it so much," she said. "I hate to give it up. I wish I had done it 30 years ago.

When time for a new five-year franchisee commitment came up last November, Krupa got a special agreement to limit the commitment to two more years, because of her age. She hopes to sell the franchise to someone who will carry on the effort. She's not sure what she'll to in her post-Curves days, but she knows she won't be sitting still and she'll still be a Curves member.

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